Sunday, March 20, 2011

The First Woman Doctor of India


India, which is bound by tradition in matters of religion, culture and family values, suffered a setback with the conquest of the country by the Britishers who ruled the country for nearly two hundred years. The nineteenth century in particular was a time when two great civilizations were in active conflict—the traditional Hinduism and the resurgent Western civilization as transmitted through the British Raj which was in its heyday in that period. Reformers like Raja Ramamohan Roy, Maharshi Karve played an effective and prominent role, particularly in the field affecting the status of women, their rights and aspirations. Issues like women’s education, widow re-marriage etc drew considerable attention of the society. In fact there were a few instances where a few ladies actually stepped out of the beaten tracks of established norms and fought tooth and nail against the prevailing custom in the society. In the galaxy of such brave and courageous ladies stands the name of Anandi Gopal as a shining star even today. Anandi was the very First Indian lady from India coming from an extremely orthodox poor Brahmin family from Bombay who ventured to go to U.S.A in 1883 at an young age of 17 years and obtain a M.D degree from an American University.
Anandi, whose maiden name was Yamu, was born to the Joshis in 1865 A.D. Her parents were residents of Kalyan, Bombay and her father Ganapatrao Joshi hailed from the family of the Peshwas. But the family was now impoverished and all that they had was some ancestral land with a dilapidated building. The Joshis were highly orthodox and ran a joint family with three generations staying under the same roof. As and when Yamu grew up, it became a harrowing task for the Joshis to find a suitable bridegroom for Yamu. In those days it was the tradition in orthodox Brahmin families to get the girl married before she reached puberty; otherwise it was considered a public disgrace to the family. Further, Yamu was dark in complexion, hefty and pockmarked. The family did not have sufficient financial background to offer any dowry to compensate for these deficiencies in Yamu. When Yamu turned nine and was nearing puberty, the parents became desperate, pushed to the brink and ready to accept any boy who would marry their daughter.
Gopalrao, also a Joshi, aged about 25 years, was a clerk in the Kalyan Post Office and used to stay in Thane. He was an eccentric whose two obsessions in life were: Women’s education and Remarriage of widows. When a matchmaker suggested the name of Gopalrao to Yamu’s parents as a prospective groom for their daughter, they immediately jumped at the offer, in spite of the fact that Gopalrao was an unimpressive looking widower. It was also disclosed that his first wife Savitri died because he bullied her with his eccentric efforts to teach her to read and write Marathi. Yamu’s educational level was also equally poor. Notwithstanding all these deficiencies in Gopalrao, the Joshis still agreed for the marriage and gave consent. The boy and the girl saw each other and the marriage was fixed. The only condition that Gopalrao imposed was that he should be permitted to educate the girl and that the girl should be willing to read and write. Having agreed to this condition, the preparations for the marriage started.
After agreeing to marry Yamu, quixotic Gopalrao suddenly changed his mind, still obsessed with the idea of marrying a widow. In a shockingly callous manner, he went away to Poona without informing anybody and did not turn up even on the wedding day. He finally arrived at Kalyan after the muhurtam was over, keeping everyone in anxiety and suspense. As the marriage could not take place in the muhurtam fixed earlier it took place subsequently. Yamu became Anandi after her marriage to Gopalrao. It was later learnt that Gopalrao went to Poona with a view to get married to a widow and returned to Kalyan after having been ditched by the widow who refused even to see Gopalrao after hearing that he was an ordinary clerk in a post office.
As Anandi was too small to start an independent living, the newly married stayed with the Joshis at Kalyan. During his leisure hours Gopalrao started teaching Anandi how to read and write Marathi, right from the alphabets. Gradually he inculcated a desire in his wife to learn more and more. In course of time, he taught her English, Sanskrit, several of the scriptures, Geography etc. Within a few years, Anandi got transformed into a well-read intellectual girl that it became difficult even for the family and the immediate neighborhood to believe the metamorphosis in Anandi.. All this change took place in the face of stiff opposition by her parents and frequent bickering in the family and the stubborn and capricious attitude of her husband. During this period Gopalrao got himself transferred to places like Alibag, Kolhapur, Calcutta etc to avoid direct interference by Anandi’s parents in her learning.
While at Kolhapur, Gopalrao came into contact with a foreign Christian lady missionary whose influence on him became so much that many times he thought of getting converted himself to a Christian. The zeal with which the Christian missionaries took up the cause of women’s education had a terrific impact on the young Gopal Rao. He was convinced that that the education of women was extremely important if any nation was to prosper. He therefore thought that he should first set an example by giving the highest education to his own wife. One day a sudden impulse ran through his body—why not send Anandi to America for higher education with the help of these Christian missionaries?
What at first appeared as loud thinking and a dream to send his wife to America for higher education soon became a reality when a Christian missionary from America by name Mrs. Carpenter volunteered to help him in arranging for Anandi’s study in America. She arranged for a medical seat to Anandi in the Medical College at Philadelphia, U.S.A. On the 17th of April 1883, Anandi sailed alone to America from Calcutta. This was at a time when she was just 17 years old, coming from a poor orthodox Brahmin family and traveling alone to a distant foreign country when crossing the sea was considered a sin in traditional Hindu families. When Anandi joined the Medical College, the Dean was all praise for the courage and conviction of this young Indian girl and her great desire to secure higher knowledge against all odds. The college offered her a scholarship of 600 dollars a month for three years.
After Anandi’s departure, Gopalrao got dejected and depressed, frequently quarreled with his boss and finally resigned his job as a postal clerk. Ultimately he made up his mind to go to America to join Anandi but did not find enough money to purchase a ticket to America. He therefore purchased a ticket up to Rangoon, worked there for sometime as a porter in the docks, earned enough money to finally reach America. When he reached Philadelphia and joined his wife after about three years, Anandi was overjoyed. By that time she had completed her M.D. in First Class.
In the Convocation held on 11th March 1886, Anandi received tremendous ovation when the President of the College cited:
“ I am proud to say that today should be recorded in golden letters in the annals of this college. We have the first Indian woman who is honoring this college by acquiring a degree in medicine. Mrs.Anandi Joshi has the honor to be the very first woman doctor of India”.
It was rather unfortunate that during the latter part of her stay in America, Anandi frequently suffered from severe cough and quite often fell sick. This was subsequently diagnosed as tuberculosis that became serious by the time she returned to India in 1886.When the ship reached Bombay a tremendous reception was arranged in honor of Anandi. In course of time the disease worsened with no prospects of recovery. Anandi, though a qualified doctor from America, insisted on her being examined by the then well-known Ayurvedic doctor Dr. Mehendele staying in Poona. She was taken to Poona but Dr. Mehendele refused even to see Anandi even though he was told that the patient was on the throes of death. Adding insult to injury, he was cruel enough to say “This woman went to America. She lived alone with strangers, ate food forbidden to Brahmins by religion and brought shame on Brahmins”.
Anandi returns home dejected and disappointed with profuse tears in her eyes.
Members of the elite in Poona came to see Anandi; flattered her achievements but no one came forward with any financial help to the family, which was in extreme penury. One fine day Anandi received a letter from Lokamanya Tilak, Editor “Kesari”, saying, inter alia:
“ I know how in the face of all the difficulties you went to a foreign country and acquired knowledge with such diligence. You are one of the greatest women of our modern era. It came to my knowledge that you need money desperately. I am a newspaper editor. I do not have a large income. Even then I wish to give you one hundred rupees”.
When Anandi saw Tilak’s letter, tears flowed out profusely and she said “ This penury, this begging for charity, no, no, I can’t bear it any more. What was I and what has become of me? I am not a beggar’s daughter. None of my family was ever a beggar. I am a landlord’s daughter. That people should take pity on me and offer me money for my bare existence, how can I live with all this? God is so cruel, why does he not relieve me of all this?”
Within a few days after uttering these pathetic words, Anandi Gopal passed away into Eternity at the young age of 21 years. That was the year 1886.


ANANDI GOPAL--India's First Lady Doctor and to Qualify from Americain 1886
Created: Wednesday, October 10, 2007 6:54 AM


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